MASSILLON — Jamir Thomas has been the heart and soul for Massillon all season. It was he who set the goal of 15 weeks for the Tigers back in the offseason.
Unfortunately for Thomas, an injury will prevent him from being a part of that 15th week.
Massillon coach Nate Moore confirmed Monday morning that the ankle injury that Thomas suffered Friday night will prevent him from playing in the Division II state championship game. The Tigers (14-0) will meet Archbishop Hoban (14-0) Thursday night at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“Jamir’s going to be unavailable this week due to an injury suffered in our Week 14 game,” Moore said. “Our hearts go out to Jamir, obviously, internally within our program. I’m sure all of Tiger Nation will be there to support a kid that’s given so much to the program. He’ll be with us this week, and obviously, at the game. He’s a true Tiger and you can’t break his spirit.”
Thomas suffered the injury to his ankle late in the third quarter of the state-semifinal win over Cincinnati Winton Woods. Up to that point, he had rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
The injury halts the best season of one of the top running backs to come through the Massillon program. Thomas had rushed for 1,918 yards — 58 yards behind the single-season record — and 24 touchdowns on 261 carries this season.
Thomas rewrote the Massillon record book as a four-year starter. He will depart as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards (4,025 yards), rushing touchdowns (56), rushing attempts (773) and scoring (344 points).
“It’s an awful situation,” Moore said. “It’s an awful situation. You don’t want to see anybody go through that. We have to pull closer together and everybody has to step their game up this week.”
The onus to fill Thomas’ shoes, at least in terms of running the ball, starts with junior Zion Phifer. Phifer is Massillon’s second-leading rusher with 623 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 carries this season.
Phifer came on to replace Thomas after the injury and finished with 88 yards on 22 carries with two scores. In the fourth quarter alone, the junior ran for 76 yards on 15 carries and scored both of his touchdowns.
“Zion’s done a good job for us,” Moore said. “We’re certainly looking for him to step up in some degree. No one person can replace Jamir Thomas. Everybody’s going to have to play a little bit better. Running backs, our offensive line, our quarterback, receivers, our defense. Everybody’s going to have to play a little bit better this week.”
Beyond Phifer, Marcellus Blake is another back who has significant carries and yards, having gained 256 yards and scored four touchdowns on 39 carries. Preston Hodges, who starts at safety, could also get some carries despite having not carried the ball in a regular-season game this season.